WHAT SILENTS & PRE-CODES HAVE YOU SEEN LATELY?

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MikeBSG
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Re: WHAT SILENTS & PRE-CODES HAVE YOU SEEN LATELY?

Post by MikeBSG »

Yesterday, I watched two Lon Chaney films: "Laugh, Clown, Laugh" and "The Ace of Hearts."

"Laugh, Clown, Laugh" was good. However, it reminded me a lot of "The Unknown." No, there isn't any horror angle in it, but Chaney falls in love with a much younger woman, realizes she doesn't love him and (basically) kills himself. What struck me is that this is the first time I've ever seen Chaney do anything funny. I loved the scene backstage when he put on an enormous nose and had Loretta Young powder it. He really was funny then. However, I think I prefer "He Who Gets Slapped" out of Chaney's "clown" movies.

"The Ace of Hearts" was interesting. Chaney was somewhat peripheral to this. (And he had one of the worst haircuts any actor on screen ever had to deal with. Did he think he was playing Ben Franklin?) I guess this film was in response to the "Red Scare" of 1919-20. Chaney is part of a society of anarchists who are trying to blow up a plutocrat. Chaney's character is so pathetic that he sits on the stoop in a rainstorm while his sweetheart enjoys wedding night sex with her new husband. Then a dog comes up an licks Chaney.

What interested me about "Ace of Hearts" was its depiction of terrorism, namely how people persuade themselves that what they are doing is necessary and why/how they change their minds about it. This is a picture that should be better known. (In a way, it reminded me of a story by Leonid Andreyev.)
MikeBSG
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Re: WHAT SILENTS & PRE-CODES HAVE YOU SEEN LATELY?

Post by MikeBSG »

Today I watched a 1926 French film, "The Chess Player."

This is a terrific movie. It is based on a story from the 18th Century. A Polish rebel against the Russians hides himself by pretending to be a mechanical man chess player.

There was a ton of great stuff here. The hero of the film (arguably) is an old man who builds robots/clockwork people. The first glimpse of his house is fascinating (and perhaps an influence on Lang or Thea von Harbou, in that he keeps a robot that looks like the woman he didn't marry?) The battle scenes are shot with a real vigor that almost suggests neorealism. The climax has splendid cross-cutting between the "execution" of the chess automaton and the death of the villain in the robot-maker's house as the robots close in on him.

Previously, I had always thought that apart from Abel Gance, there was nothing going on in French cinema between 1914 and the coming of talkies. "The Chess Player" however, is a real gem.
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Ann Harding
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Re: WHAT SILENTS & PRE-CODES HAVE YOU SEEN LATELY?

Post by Ann Harding »

MikeBSG wrote:Previously, I had always thought that apart from Abel Gance, there was nothing going on in French cinema between 1914 and the coming of talkies. "The Chess Player" however, is a real gem.
Aaaaaaaargh! What are you saying Mike!!! :shock: Of course, there was a lot going on in French cinema between 1914 and 1929. I am doing my best to highlight all the French silents I can watch here on SSO. Actually, the best book written about this period of French cinema has been written by an American. I recommend it highly. It's French Cinema: The First Wave 1915-1929 by Richard Abel (Princeton University Press, 1986).
I love Raymond Bernard as a director. So I am really glad you loved Le Joueur d'Echecs. 8) I have to agree with you with one aspect: French silent cinema is very poorly represented on DVD... :cry: The French Cinémathèque is not doing its job, neither is Pathé. Gaumont has done a few silent DVD boxes recently, but it's peanuts compared to the riches of their catalogue, alas....
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MichiganJ
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Re: WHAT SILENTS & PRE-CODES HAVE YOU SEEN LATELY?

Post by MichiganJ »

Ann Harding wrote:
MikeBSG wrote:Previously, I had always thought that apart from Abel Gance, there was nothing going on in French cinema between 1914 and the coming of talkies. "The Chess Player" however, is a real gem.
Aaaaaaaargh! What are you saying Mike!!! :shock: Of course, there was a lot going on in French cinema between 1914 and 1929. I am doing my best to highlight all the French silents I can watch here on SSO. Actually, the best book written about this period of French cinema has been written by an American. I recommend it highly. It's French Cinema: The First Wave 1915-1929 by Richard Abel (Princeton University Press, 1986).
I love Raymond Bernard as a director. So I am really glad you loved Le Joueur d'Echecs. 8) I have to agree with you with one aspect: French silent cinema is very poorly represented on DVD... :cry: The French Cinémathèque is not doing its job, neither is Pathé. Gaumont has done a few silent DVD boxes recently, but it's peanuts compared to the riches of their catalogue, alas....
I totally agree!

There are a few must-see French silents that are available on DVD in the States:

La Terre (1921) (A Photoplay restoration)
A Jacques Feyder Collection which includes: Queen of Atlantis (1921); Crainquebille (1922); Faces of Children (1925)
and two of my all-time silent favorites by Julien Duvivier released by Facets:
Poil de Carotte (Carrot Top) (1925)
Au bonheur des dames (1930)

You may also want to check out Criterion's Eclipse collection of Raymond Bernard films, which includes Wooden Crosses and Les Miserables, both terrific films.
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feaito

Re: WHAT SILENTS & PRE-CODES HAVE YOU SEEN LATELY?

Post by feaito »

Other excellent French Silents besides the mentioned and Gance's films are, among others: "Le Capitaine Fracasse", "Monte-Cristo" and "Casanova".
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Gagman 66
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Re: WHAT SILENTS & PRE-CODES HAVE YOU SEEN LATELY?

Post by Gagman 66 »

Fernando,

:o Wanted to be sure to mention that what survives of SOULS FOR SALE is actually a heavily re-edited foreign print found in Prague back in 1968. The film had some considerable Shrinkage and even water damage. No domestic print has ever been found. We are very lucky to have at least some version of this film today. Although, what remains is probably not much like the original American release in 1923. I agree that Marcus Sojwell score is very good. So far He has only scored one other Silent film for TCM. I believe that was William Haines THE SMART SET if I recall correctly?
feaito

Re: WHAT SILENTS & PRE-CODES HAVE YOU SEEN LATELY?

Post by feaito »

Thanks for that information Jeffrey.
Synnove
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Re: WHAT SILENTS & PRE-CODES HAVE YOU SEEN LATELY?

Post by Synnove »

Ann Harding wrote:
MikeBSG wrote:Previously, I had always thought that apart from Abel Gance, there was nothing going on in French cinema between 1914 and the coming of talkies. "The Chess Player" however, is a real gem.
Aaaaaaaargh! What are you saying Mike!!! :shock: Of course, there was a lot going on in French cinema between 1914 and 1929. I am doing my best to highlight all the French silents I can watch here on SSO. Actually, the best book written about this period of French cinema has been written by an American. I recommend it highly. It's French Cinema: The First Wave 1915-1929 by Richard Abel (Princeton University Press, 1986).
I love Raymond Bernard as a director. So I am really glad you loved Le Joueur d'Echecs. 8) I have to agree with you with one aspect: French silent cinema is very poorly represented on DVD... :cry: The French Cinémathèque is not doing its job, neither is Pathé. Gaumont has done a few silent DVD boxes recently, but it's peanuts compared to the riches of their catalogue, alas....
I agree. Also, the documentary Cinema Europe has an episode on French cinema. It's nice to actually get to see a bit of what was going on. Unfortunately this DVD is out of print...

I also really enjoyed Souls For Sale. I had no idea it was such an edited print. It seemed fairly comprehensible to me... very nice look behind the scenes of Hollywood in 1923! Although I guess some real factory workers might have raised their eyebrows at a title card describing the "factory-like" working conditions of the studio, and then fading to the actress answering fan letters!
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Ann Harding
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Re: WHAT SILENTS & PRE-CODES HAVE YOU SEEN LATELY?

Post by Ann Harding »

Yesterday I saw another Duvivier silent Le Reflet de Claude Mercoeur (Claude Mercoeur's reflection, 1923). Alas, it was a horribly static film with a poor script. The story had potential with a politician, minister Claude Mercoeur, who cannot cope with his workload and social life. He takes on a lookalike to replace him at various functions. But his replacement falls in love with his future wife. They end up fighting and the lookalike dies accidentally. He looses the woman he loved as she prefered the lookalike. This story was told in such a flat way as to make you fall sleep. We got endless wordy title cards. On top, it was far from good technically speaking. The double exposures looked amateurish. I have seen better ones in a Gaumont short from 1910! The acting was not great either with the lead being played by a wooden actor. It's quite amazing to see how unoriginal and unimaginative Duvivier was during the silent era (apart from his two great achievements Poil de Carotte and Au Bonheur des Dames). It was quite tedious to sit through all those boring silents, but I know realise that a director should never be judged from his silents only or his talking pictures only. Gance was a marvellous silent director who floundered in the talkie era; Julien Duvivier was a fairly mediocre silent director who became great with the advent of sound. And there is host of fairly unknown French directors of the 20s who sometimes produced marvellous pictures before disappearing for ever after the sound came....
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Ann Harding
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Re: WHAT SILENTS & PRE-CODES HAVE YOU SEEN LATELY?

Post by Ann Harding »

After that real disappointment, I was glad to see Louis Feuillade's Vendémiaire (1918). It's a big production shot in the Rhône valley with a big cast of all the great Gaumont actors: Edouard Mathé (who was in Fantômas), Gaston Michel (in Barrabas), Louis Lebas (in Les Vampires), René Cresté (Judex himself)..etc. This picture is obviously deeply rooted in its period: this is nearly the end of WWI and Feuillade is doing his bit with a patriotic picture. We follow a column of refugees who had to leave their houses and possessions in the north of France following the German invasion. They end up on a boat going down the Rhône to work as harvesters in the Bas-Languedoc vineyards. The main characters are le Père Larcher (G. Michel) who is without news of his elder daughter who lived in occupied zone near the Belgian frontier; René Cresté is a soldier who has been discharged and Edouard Mathé, the vineyard owner, is blind following a war wound. In the middle of the harvesters, two German spys usurp the identity of two Belgian refugees after killing them. A poor gipsy woman is hired to harvest, but the nasty spy (Louis Lebas) is plotting to steal the harvesters money. He prepares a nasty plot so that the gipsy will be found responsible... Overall the film contains a good amount of anti-German feelings with a lot of references to 'boches' (huns). Nevertheless, it's beautifully shot entirely on locations and manages to capture wonderfully the atmosphere of the time and of the place. It's got a neo-realistic feeling to it like the best André Antoine pictures like La Terre (1920). On top, it's performed brilliantly by all the actors who are extremely natural. It feels like going back in time to witness the harvest in the countryside. It offers quite a different take on WWI from J'accuse (1919). Obviously, Feuillade is just showing the anti-German feelings ; but it speaks volume about the life of people in war time. Really interesting. :)
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pvitari
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Re: WHAT SILENTS & PRE-CODES HAVE YOU SEEN LATELY?

Post by pvitari »

Movies watched lately:

Night Song (not a pre-code so this will be brief): Dana Andrews: recently blinded composer/pianist. Merle Oberon: wealthy socialite who loves his music but to overcome his bitterness, pretends to be poor blind girl. They fall in love. As herself she sponsors contest. He wins of course and has the money to have surgery to restore eyesight. He falls in love with her as her real self not realizing she's also the poor blind girl he's also in love with. They go to hear the big concert with Artur Rubinstein performing his concerto. Just as he's about to enter the concert hall... well, I don't know because my @#()*$(*# recorder cut off 10 minutes before the end! Actually I suspect it's TCM's fault because they have a bad habit of running movies over their assigned times on the TIVO/Direct TV computerized listings. I hope TCM reruns this sometime again soon (so far it's not scheduled again).

Way Down East. No, not the classic silent directed by D.W. Griffith with Richard Barthelmess (one of my biggest movie loves) and Lillian Gish, but the 1935 remake with Henry Fonda and Rochelle Hudson. Not a classic. :) Some good performances, especially from stern-faced Russell Simpson as Henry Fonda's father, but this version was missing something, and I don't mean the first act which has been cut from this remake that opens with Anna's arrival at the Bartlett farm. I never really quite got why Fonda's David falls so deeply in love with Hudson's Anna -- it's like she's there and boom, he loves her. OK, she's young and pretty, but still... And although I've enjoyed Rochelle Hudson in the past, she came off as just a little too tough to be this frail, frightened girl. The journey across the river's ice floes was particularly fake looking with a lot of process shots. It was interesting to see and to compare, but for me the version to watch is still, by far, the D.W. Griffith silent.

Finally, the movie Raoul Walsh made right after The Big Trail: a chamber drama, The Man Who Came Back, starring Charles Farrell and Janet Gaynor. Definitely a pre-code; it's from 1931. The source was a 1912 short novel by John Fleming Wilson, which was made into a play. I've read the book, which is really very good but haven't been able to find the play. It was first made into a film in 1924 starring George O'Brien and Dorothy Mackaill but I don't even know if it still exists (can't find anything about it at silentera.com and the one commenter on IMDB is notorious for writing up reviews of movies he hasn't seen or are known to be lost). As I said, the book is very good -- it's about the alcoholic prodigal black sheep son of a wealthy man whose life consists of a series of moves that finally bring him to the brink in a Shanghai opium den; he meets a female opium addict who convinces him to turn his life around, and the second half of the book is him retracing his steps back to each place he's been, making things right and finally returning home. He comes back not just physically but spiritually and morally.

The movie is fairly similar to this except that Farrell is literally "shanghaied" to Shanghai on orders of his father and dumped there to sink or swim, and Gaynor's character is a combination of three women from the book and the rationale for getting her into the opium den is ludicrous to say the least. :) This is really Farrell's movie and I think he really shines here as a dissolute rich kid alcoholic who gets about as low as you can get short of the DTs and death. His silent characters frequently had a dark streak and in real life he was no stranger to a drink, and it all combines into a very believable portrait. Gaynor is fine when being the sweet cabaret singer in love with Farrell even if he is a drunk, but as an opium addict she is trying WAYYYYY too hard -- she's just not credible with her overly dramatic vocal delivery, and I suspect that will be the only time ever I will ever say that about Janet Gaynor. The two best scenes in the movie are the San Francisco party where Farrell weaves around and finally finds Gaynor and they have a tender and happy scene together, and then his stumbling into the opium den looking for another drink (he trades his fraternity ring for some cheap hooch) and finds Gaynor, who at first denies she's his girl but finally admits she followed him there and started doing opium so he could see her rot. (At this explanation my eyeballs started doing that orbiting thing.) The close-up on Farrell when he spots Gaynor -- the change in his expression as he blearily realizes who he's looking at -- is a very fine piece of work from him.

I'm not planning to screencap this one but I did slip it into the computer to get a few shots of my favorite scenes. So herewith a 12 pic tour through the movie! ;)

Another morning after for our protagonist Steve (nice muscles) :)
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Steve doing his best to annoy his dad -- sitting sideways in the chair and taking a drink
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Sent to San Francisco by his dad, Steve spends his time partying heartily, which hasn't stopped Angie from falling in love with him
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C-h-e-m-i-s-t-r-y
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Kidnapped to Shanghai just after he and Angie have planned to marry and return to his father in New York, Steve hits bottom in an opium den
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Janet Gaynor vamping it up as Angie the opium addict
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Steve reacts to the sight of her
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He's not happy when she tells him she wants him to see her rot away as her revenge for deserting her
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His reaction is to almost strangle her, then decide it's time to start over, so they move to Hawaii and get clean
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But that old demon drink has a hold of Steve -- he's dying for a taste
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Forget about the demon drink, his family has arrived! And his aunt tells him his father's dying and he has to return to New York with them, without Angie because she's unacceptable in polite society. Thanks, Auntie!
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After various complications, it comes out the way you would expect it to
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And now, finally, Paula's fantasy of a sequel to this movie:

Many years later, Steve and Angie retire and move back to Honolulu
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where Steve takes on a new job as fashion coordinator for Jack Lord in Hawaii Five-O
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The Ingenue
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Re: WHAT SILENTS & PRE-CODES HAVE YOU SEEN LATELY?

Post by The Ingenue »

pvitari wrote:C-h-e-m-i-s-t-r-y
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Ahhh..... Thanks for sharing a glimpse of The Man Who Came Back!
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pvitari
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Re: WHAT SILENTS & PRE-CODES HAVE YOU SEEN LATELY?

Post by pvitari »

Here's another one for you, Carrie!

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The Ingenue
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Re: WHAT SILENTS & PRE-CODES HAVE YOU SEEN LATELY?

Post by The Ingenue »

How lovely! Thank you so much.
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Gagman 66
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Re: WHAT SILENTS & PRE-CODES HAVE YOU SEEN LATELY?

Post by Gagman 66 »

:) Just purchased the recently released Grapevine edition of ARE PARENTS PEOPLE (Paramount, 1925). The transfer from a 16 Millimeter Kodascope print is quite good. Much better than standard often Maligned Grapevine product. Although the film seems to have been condensed from Seven to 5 Reels as was Kodascope's standard practice. Nonetheless, the story holds up quite well. This is a delightful film with a superb all around cast.

Adolphe Mejou and Florence Vidor are a wealthy feuding married, soon to be Ex-married couple, who's domestic bliss has turned intolerable after 17 years. Mr. And Mrs. James Hazlit, rarely speak to each other anymore, and avoid one another's presence like the plague. Neither knows exactly why. Pressed for an answer to the rift and aversion between them by their heartbroken daughter Lita, Mrs. Hazlitt struggles to find one. A title card reads simply "There is absolutely nothing wrong. Only we can not agree" The darling daughter played by Betty Bronson doesn't find that explanation the least bit satisfactory. The rather placid Father reiterates that "Incompatibility" is driving them apart.

:cry: A tug of War develops over her custody, but all the time Lita is plotting to Mend-fences. She studies fix all journals such as the handy "Divorce, And It's Cure" The marriage now dissolved, daughter is sent away to a prestigious Girls school Soon she meets a dashing Doctor Steven Dacer (Lawrence Gray) who mends her best friend Margaret (Emily Fitzroy's) broken ankle incurred during routine group Calisthenics. The young Medical man is quickly Smitten with the vivacious Lita. Taking her out for a ride in the park. A Motion Picture is in production on location there, and the Star the enigmatic Maurice Mansfield (Andre' Beranger) cast his favor on Lita between takes, much to the chagrin of Doctor Dacer who insists that all Hollywood Sheik's are Girl chasing Cads! All the time Doc is unaware that it is actually the roommate Margaret, who truly fancies the fellow. Lita won't let on.

:| Meanwhile, lonely James Hazlit is still carrying the torch for his Ex-Wife Helen, but has no idea how to approach her. He feels certain that she thoroughly despises him. They run into each other when visiting Lita at the Collage. The Ex-Hubby makes an awkward attempt to make small-talk. He fails miserably, accidentally shattering a vase in the reception room! "You haven't changed! You are always Breaking things!" She snaps. "Like Our Marriage!" When the house mother enters the room and beholds the smashed vase, she queries "Accident". To which James nods "Yes".

:shock: Now a misunderstanding develops over some photos and letters that her convalescing room-mate had written to that big Hollywood Movie Star Mansfield and Lita is promptly expelled! Shouldering the blame, she will milk the opportunity for all it is worth to try and get her parents back together. The ploy shows real promise and Lita is encouraged. But soon another blow up ensues between dear Mommy and Daddy. Both point an accusing finger at the other. Neither is prepared nor willing to admit any responsibility for the unfortunate incident. Such bitter quarreling over her drives the girl away in despair. She writes a note that she is leaving and will never see either of them again. In truth, she is headed back to Steven's practice to ask his advice. Frantically, Mommy will is certain that Lita is with the Matinee Idol and invites him to her home. She reveals the letters, and He does not even recall having seen Lita in the park. Though married, Mr. Mansfield quickly takes a shine to the now single Mom! Just as the Ex has chosen that moment to try and make amends. James enters to find another man fawning over his wife err, Ex-Wife, at a distance and quickly departs. More trouble ensues when it appears that Lita and the good Doctor may have spent the night together! Oh, Boy! How will it all end? Will, there be reconciliation, or Kayos?

:o Florence Vidor is great as the stern Mother. She still looks a tad young at times to have been married for some 17 or 18 years. Still a very attractive lady. Occasionally quite striking in-fact. Adolphe Menjou as the father is surprisingly quiet and reserved throughout the film. He has really very little to say most of the time. Betty Bronson is a real Charmer as the feisty daughter. Lawrence Gray is Handsome and wholesome as the Doctor, and really the whole cast is just terrific all around. No one over acts or steals the show, the actors compliment each other very well. Malcolm St. Claire did an outstanding job of Directing the feature. The picture is beautifully photographed with lovely cinematography throughout. This is a cut above your run of the mill ever day programmer.

ARE PARENTS PEOPLE? Was based on a popular Broadway play of the same name. It is one of just four Betty Bronson Silents that is still known to exist today. The gifted young actress really sparkles here, and it would be wonderful if more of her films could yet be found.



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A Good Scolding. Bad Little Mommy and Daddy!-Betty Bronson, Florence Vidor and Adolphe Menjou-ARE PARENTS PEOPLE? (1925)
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